Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Owned Social Media, Defined

At work we've started classifying our marketing communication media into three categories: Paid, Owned and Earned.  I believe one of our agencies coined these category names, I've definitely seen them outside of my own company as well, but lately they are terms that it behooves a person to whack on the first slide of any PowerPoint presentation.

The classic example of Paid Media would be a television spot, or a page in a print magazine.  Earned is classically used for PR impressions, in other words when what we do garners enough attention that it gets mentioned by the news media, when we didn't pay for the placement.  Owned, especially in the digital realm, is used for a brand's own website.

Trying to apply these terms to Social Media, I got into a number of interesting arguments with other classification-minded analytical types at work, and we especially got stuck on Facebook.  We don't own Facebook, Facebook owns Facebook, so it seemed weird to call our brand's Facebook pages examples of "owned media".  But it's also kind of our space that we control, so it's more than just "earned", it's not like the front page of the New York Times or some blogger's blog.  But the comments that people leave on the page seem like "earned" impressions, we didn't pay for them or sponsor them, but the people cared enough to come and post.  So which one is it?

Back when I was teaching Intro Philosophy, I worked up a patter about analytical definitions, because it was such an important part of the philosophical tradition in which I was trained and also because it was most of what we did for the whole first year of the major.  I explained it in terms of a lasso - you have a word in a language, and you have some intuitions about what it applies to, but there are borderline cases and the edges are fuzzy, so philosophers come along and try to provide a definition, another set of words, that more clearly draws the line about what's in and what's out.  If your definition applies to more things that you intuitively would use the word for, then your proposed definition is too broad.  If it excludes things to which you would intuitively apply the word, then it's too narrow.  At any point, of course, you can just decide to take your definition as prescriptive, and change your behavior so it matches the definition rather than your intuitions.  But in general you want to match it as much as possible, because you're trying to provide clarity, not necessarily stage a revolution.

So, applying this technique to "Owned Social Media", I came up with a definition, perhaps more of a criterion, that seemed to work really well.  Social Media is Owned if we, our company, are able to delete user's posts.  Not owned, if not.

Being an example of Owned Media, then, really comes down to whether or not someone inside the company has the Admin password.  So that's pretty operational, but I think it really draws a nice distinct line - we can delete things on our own Facebook page, but we can't delete things on someone's personal Facebook page. 

So I give you that definition for free, to use if it's helpful in your own organization.

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